Thirst (2009), or Care For A Taste?

26 11 2009

For all those in the know, Park Chan-wook is the face of the Korean extreme film. He is our Quentin Tarantino, and when one of his films arrives, it’s really a big event for moviegoers. When you want in-your-face movie-making, cerebral storytelling, and violence coming at you like a bloody, goring bull dog screaming in garbled Portuguese about his Pupperoni, Park Chan-wook is the guy you talk to. Today I checked out his latest film, entitled Thirst, about a priest who, through a series of mishaps, and despite his altruism, becomes a vampire. It is darkly conceived and divinely inspired by an Emile Zola play, and I enjoyed it, but much like the other Chan-wook films I’ve seen, it seems to run out of steam at times, and I can’t help but feel that there were better scripting choices that were foregone in favor of what would make situations end the most violently.

Poor, poor Sang-hyun. He’s got it rough. He’s a Korean Catholic priest who has two faces; that of the unbending and rigid faith of a priest, and that of a doubting man, someone who, in his heart of hearts, has a problem with all the suffering and death around him caused by an allegedly loving God. In his drive to help people, he decides to volunteer for experimentation to cure a very deadly disease. He is a very brave man, and he does a very good thing, but the experiment is a disaster, and everyone dies during the experiment. He, however, is quickly revived and completely healed after he’s given more blood in his IV. Sang-hyun leaves the treatment center after a few months, and is cleared to return to his parish. He is famous around the area for being only one in 500 to survive the experiment, and is considered to be something of a miracle. He is invited to the house of a dress maker whose son has cancer after he prays for him. There, he falls for Tae-ju the wife of the woman’s son, a thin, quiet girl he remembers from his youth. She’s changed into a beautiful woman since they last met, but he has changed as well. He no longer is seen during the day, he has an amazing amount of strength and speed, and nobody ever sees him eat anything…

The film focuses on Sang-hyun and Tae-ju’s illicit relationship. It’s a very sensual movie that relies on the transformative properties of the characters to bring a lot of the romance home. You don’t quite know where the characters stand, and even those who you feel would never be able to do something against type will shock you. This can also pose a problem, though, because in this particular instance, I feel like some of these characters were almost hyper-transformative, too unpredictable and unnatural, while some characters, like Sangh-hyun, atrophied as a character about 45 minutes in. It can be a bit annoying, but it doesn’t totally distract as much as it does bother.

Chan-wook Park directs with such a passion. It is clearly his dream to make movies, and his drive inhabits every scene as an auteur who writes and directs his own material. Zola’s play must be very close to his heart, because my heart swells at this well-timed and beautifully framed affair. Even when Park’s infamous blood and gore bursts onto the screen, it’s still grotesquely lovely, in a way. Aesthetically pleasing in every way, this movie takes sensuality to a new level with the love scenes. Actors Kang-ho Song and Ok-vin Kim positively set the film ablaze when their passion ignites as characters Sang-hyun and Tae-ju, and I don’t say it lightly when I posit that they have one of the most intense and engrossing love scenes I’ve ever seen together. But I will say that Park did let the film drag a bit. There are some largely unnecessary sequences added for seemingly no purpose and, as I said earlier, some of the character changes seemed extraneous, which hurt the momentum a bit.

But the actors are amazing, the direction is exquisite, and it’s an interesting take on the vampire legend. Thirst is about a man at odds with himself as well as the world he has constructed around himself. He is surrounded by things that disgust him, including himself, and even in his dark solaces there is nothing to truly comfort him. The film begs of us, “Where is salvation for the damned?” and we leave the theater without much of an answer, only a desire to not ever find ourselves in that situation. This is another violent chapter in Park’s cinematic legacy, and while it is not perfect, I do feel that there is a lot of value here for the film connoisseur. Take a chance on it, and you won’t be disappointed. And, hey, even better news, the DVD I saw didn’t even have an English dub of the dialog! Take that, subtitle-hating fiends everywhere! I give Thirst 7 1/2 dark solaces out of 10! Enjoy!

Tomorrow I will take a ride into the 80s with Heavy Metal! Until then!!!

Time Barbarians (1990), or If I Could Tattoo One Movie Title On My Forehead…

26 11 2009

Dear Readers,

If you are reading this, that means that I have just watched Time Barbarians, one of the worst sword-and-sandal flicks I’ve seen in all my days. Perhaps it was hubris, to think I could handle it without first being given a heavy sedative, or perhaps it was the muscular, hulking gremlin that was my curiosity, forcing me to watch something involving the keywords “Barbarians” and “Time-Travel”, but whatever it was, I watched it, and now my fate is uncertain. For if this is being posted, likely by one of my confidants, then I, Eric “Wonder Pants” Young, in a spectacular fit of pain and confusion, beat myself in the face with my own living room knick-knacks (probably my ceramic figures based on characters from The English Patient) until such time as I was incapacitated. Hopefully I survive my own foolish experiment into the world of T&A fantasy flicks featuring former American Gladiators, and hope to report back to you soon. But if not, let this be a very real warning to you kids who think it’s “cool” to watch awful movies. It’s not cool at all, and it’s possibly lethal. So fuck you, kids.


Well, everyone, I’m back from the hospital. They let me go early. The doctor said that not only is there nothing wrong with me, but apparently I just made up that whole scenario for the purpose of written comedy! Well, I didn’t get my Ph. D. in either Voodoo or Bullshit, so I guess I’ll take her word for it (my Ph. D. is in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with a minor in Alligator Wrestling).

Now, I did indeed watch this straight-to-VHS atrocity, and while I’m sure you’re probably aware of its intense lack of quality, I still think you should watch it. Why? Because it redeems itself in unexpected and hilarious ways. If you wanted something serious to watch for Thanksgiving, stay tuned for my review of Thirst tonight, and I’ll make sure you have something to recommend to your smart friends so you don’t look like a colossal pleb. But this is a horrible movie that I think is pretty good for a lark. It sucks, and I’m not going to lie about that; just watch the trailer, for fuck’s sake. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and and give it a dreadful 1 time-traveling American Gladiator out of 10. But Time Barbarians is still worth your time if you’re of a particularly twisted mindset like me and enjoy the folly of the B-movie filmmaker.

What’s the setup, you ask? Only one of the most epic scenarios since Rollerball! In Inconsequential Medieval Fantasy World, a beefy long-haired barbarian king named Doran runs around the forest righting wrongs and attacking his queen with the lil smokey he’s smuggling in his loincloth. Everything’s going good in the land of merriment and stoic mirth until Mandrak, an evil dude with a plot to take down Doran even though he never did anything to antagonize him, takes his queen hostage and steals the magical amulet bestowed upon Doran by his father and his father before him. Doran chases after them and eventually finds Mandrak, but his queen dies at the hands of the fiend, and, worse than that, he escapes after the amulet’s power transports him far away. Broken and discouraged, Doran screams in anger, but just when all hope seems lost, the sexy blonde wizard who gave his family the amulet ages ago appears before him and demands that he get off his ass and chase down Mandrak to get that amulet back! She gives him a sword that will take him to the exact spot in time and space that Mandrak left to, and sends him off to his destination. And, of all places, you’ll never in a million years guess where he lands up. No, not the Bronze Age! No, not the Belgian Revolution! He lands in Los Angeles during the early 90s! How whimsical! It turns very quickly into a fish-out-of-water story, and Doran has to find that evil Mandrak in a modern city with the help of a reporter who looks suspiciously like his dead queen…

Some people have complained that this movie is misogynist, and I really don’t see that here. It all has to be put in context. Time Barbarians is exploitative in the most charming way. There are one or two brief flashes of nudity here in the beginning that are both tasteful and borderline respectful, but those four or five nipples might have been the entire reason this movie was put into production by the super-frugal straight-to-Betamax production. It reminds me of a Boris Vallejo calender, only not very good. Time Barbarians, like the sliding pens that allow you to take the top of a woman if you turn it upside down, is harmless and delightful.

Too bad the acting IS harmful. Jesus Christ, these people should not be in front of a camera. Deron McBee is Doran, king of the barbarians and Malibu from the first season of American Gladiator! He wields a sword mightily enough, but as soon as someone asks him to talk, he doesn’t know how to sound like a normal human being. It’s cringe-inducing, but not quite as cheesy as Daniel Martine, who plays the insidious Mandrak! He really can’t get out of the same tone, like no matter what happens, he’s a fucking villain, end of story. And worse than that, he does that awesomely embarrassing look into the camera, and he does it at times as if he’s waiting for the scene to end! “Someone just get me out of this god-damn movie!” The best acting comes from Joann Ayers, who plays Doran’s queen/reporter future girlfriend. She abstains from completely shaming herself, but she still falls pretty flat. None of her lines sound quite right, and for some reason even the future version of her is off. She LIVES in the 1990s! What the hell, Joann? On aside note, her breasts are quite enjoyable, bolstering a much-maligned cast.

With a score from a series of 90s RPGs, special effects by a 7 year old, and a script that was rejected from the Deathstalker series, Time Barbarians sucks pretty hard, but in a hilarious way. The same way Hell Comes To Frogtown endears itself to me, I can’t help but feel like this has a lot of entertainment value. This is something you and your friends can tear apart late night on a Friday, drunk and looking for something easy to ridicule. I enjoyed it on a certain level, and if you have the right sense of humor for it (a good one), you’ll get a real kick out of Malibu the Barbarian cracking necks for the good of the land!

I’ll be working on watching Thirst tonight, so stay up with me, folks! Until then!